The Maidstone Museum Collections
During the Edwardian period 1901-10, jewellery making techniques improved and platinum (a strong metal) made lighter, almost invisible settings possible for diamonds in garlands and ribbons. After the 1914-18 War, contacts with Paris and ‘modern’ designers resumed and jewellery became abstract until the end of the 1930s, using geometric shapes related to the Art Deco style. Simultaneously, the Chinoiserie styles of the 18th Century enjoyed a vogue. During the Second World War 1939-45, the 1930s styles tended to fossilise, the only ‘new’ invention being the ‘minaudiére’, which was a compartmented cosmetic case made in an alloy and set with jewels.
Post-war, designs began to reflect contemporary artists’ jewellery projects. Alexander Calder (1898-1976) produced playful structures in brass and silver wire, hammered or bent. Georges Braque (1882-1963), at the age of 81, designed a series of 133 jewels, with Baron Lowenfeld, in textured gold, pavé set diamonds and slices of stone. Picasso (1881-1973) cast jewels in gold from his own plaster and terracotta forms. Scandinavian design influenced jewellery in the 1950s and early 1960s, using abstract natural forms, and a range of textures and finishes on semi-precious metals with irregular and cabochon cut (domed) stones. During the 1960s and 1970s, the ‘craftsman as artist’ jewellery designer/ maker had more influence. Now, ordinary people could commission individual pieces for special occasions, liaising with the maker. Simultaneously, ‘Pop Art’ (a movement which transformed objects of popular culture into art) influenced jewellery designs, producing bizarre, fun jewellery such as pencil shavings and crumpled bus tickets.
Oriental and other ethnic jewellery has been a major influence on late 20th Century jewellery. In the East, jewels are a part of everyday life, and in India they were often made by itinerant craftsmen who carried the tools of their trade from house to house.
Pendant jewellery, constructed of multiple suspended leaves and beads, enamel, cloisonné and gilded metals were adapted to Western fashions with little change from the originals. During the last twenty years, the jewellery market has simply provided a huge range of ornamentation to cater for every taste and occasion. It is possible to buy, from the High Street chain stores, Victorian pastiches and classic, simple silver and semi-precious stone jewellery. Craftsman-made pieces are still affordable and fashion retail outlets offer a range of inexpensive, co-ordinated, fun pieces to buy with the garments. Plastics and various resins have been used to make temporary jewellery as disposable as a paper cup.
17a Brooch, girl in trilby, tinted photo, c.1900-10
Around 1900, newspaper photos were very poor quality and did not do justice to the professional beauties and actresses of the day, which King Edward favoured. The glossy or matt finished sepia picture postcard did, and the image was sometimes tinted, either by hand or by sprayed pigment blown through a mask (stencil). This brooch incorporates a picture of a postcard style photographic image of a fashionable young woman, wearing a trilby shaped hat. The mount is styled to resemble a copper picture frame in a ‘modern’ style.
17b Necklace/pendant, humming bird, ivory, c.1920
Constructed of a slim, gold chain with ivory balls suspending a rectangular, openwork plaque in ivory. It depicts a bird about to plunder a rose amongst a bush. The design reflects both the Arts and Crafts movement and the last traces of Art Nouveau.
Given by Anne Hull Grundy of Hampshire, 1979-83
17c Pendant, girl and doves, etched glass, c.1924
Just after the First War 1914-18, peace was uppermost in people’s minds. This simple, etched glass pendant on a knotted silk rope depicts a flower-haired girl kissing a dove resting on her hand, whilst a second adds a blossom to her head. It is signed on the reverse ‘R. Lalique’ whose work was regarded at the time as ‘unpleasantly decadent’, though superbly crafted. It was bought at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924.
Given by Mrs Esmé Stevens of Charing in 1980
17d Brooch/clip, strapwork, white pastes, 1938
1930s jewellery tended towards the geometric, Art Deco style. The standard jewel was the ‘diamond double-clip’, two mitre shapes that could be pulled apart and worn separately on the lapels, or together as a conventional brooch. This example is a triple clip, (brooch and two lapel clips), made in white metal and pastes, in a strapwork, Art Deco flavour design. It was bought in Harrods in 1938 for 35/- (approximately £1.75).
Given by Mrs Grant Dowdeswell of Biddenden, in 1982
17e Brooch, maple leaves, coloured plastic, c.1940s
During and after the Second World War, American and Canadian decorative motifs were very popular, partly due to the Allied troop involvement, and partly because of the romantic revival of the cowboy culture in the early 1950s. ‘Indian chieftains’ were a popular image in particular. Plastics have been used in jewellery since the 1890s, when casein (synthesised from milk protein) was used to simulate ivory and horn. Celluloid was extensively used from the 1920s to the 1940s, and is very light in weight and can be moulded with fine details. These painted leaves are probably celluloid.
Given by Dr. Julian Litten of London, in the 1980s
18a Brooch, interwoven swathe, gold metal/ glass, c.1955
Knots and swathes have been used in jewellery since the 1850s, when French campaigns in Algeria made the knots and tassels of Moorish dress interesting as a fashion detail. This gold coloured metal swathe is set with turquoise glass and marcasites (crystallised iron pyrites).
Given by Mary Kempson of Ealing, in 1985
18b Three rings, abstract/Egyptian, stainless steel, early 1960s
Popular jewellery responds to major design trends (often some years after the initial pieces have appeared), combining unrelated styles. These three rings are probably inspired by Scandinavian originals, but one is rather incongruously attached to an Egyptian scarab beetle, perhaps contemporary with Elizabeth Taylor’s starring role in the film ‘Cleopatra’, of 1963. Stainless steel was widely used in cutlery, household vessels and jewellery in the late 1950s and early 1960s, symbolising post war, good modern design.
Given by Mary Kempson of Ealing, in 1985
18c Headband, ‘red Indian’, beadwork/hide, early 1970s
During the period late 1960s to early 1970s, the hippie cult borrowed clothing and accessories from many ethnic sources, especially Asian and North American cultures. Genuine pieces were prized, especially if the wearer had actually made a pilgrimage to the country of origin. This headband is probably tourist ware made by Native American descendants, and features a stylised bird (eagle) and various motifs against the ‘evil eye’, common to all ethnic cultures.
18d Brooch, ‘punk band’, enamel, early 1980s
In the mid 1970s to early 1980s, a youth movement was inspired by the designer Vivienne Westwood and her then partner and manager of the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren. Unemployed young people who were Punks wore aggressive leather, bondage chains, garishly dyed and stuck-out hair and crude facial piercings. Their music was similarly harsh and anti-establishment. ‘Labels’ worn as jewellery shows your cultural allegiance and this Siouxie and the Banshees punk band badge may be a piece of fan club merchandise.
Purchased for the Museum Collection in 1985
18e Necklace, ‘ethnic’ leaves, resin, c.1997
The late 20th Century fashion jewellery scene not only went for novelty in a big way, but saw nothing wrong in using very cheap materials in unsophisticated designs based on ethnic sources. In an attempt to look totally co-ordinated, women were encouraged to harmonise all their garments and accessories carefully. Fashion pace had sped up and you either bought ‘cheap and cheerful’ and renewed your look frequently, or went for classics, or favourite designer wear.
Given by Garth Sheppard of Maidstone, late 1990s